5 Unique U.S. Military Traditions, Customs, and More

Jesse Daugherty

Jesse Daugherty

5 Unique U.S. Military Traditions, Customs, and More

The U.S. military has been around for a long time, which means that they have plenty of longstanding traditions and customs. As is natural for any institution that has such a lengthy history, several traditions have taken root.

Some of these are interesting, while others are utterly bizarre. For all of the odd rules, pomp, and regalia, each ceremony and activity holds a special meaning and purpose. These are also deeply cherished by those who preserve it.

Now we take a look at a handful of the most unique military customs that the members of our armed forces continue to practice to this day.

The Crossing The Line Ceremony!
We'll start with one of the most peculiar military tradition of them all: The Crossing the Line Ceremony. This unique ceremony is essentially a coming of age for the inexperienced sailors on a ship.

The "Line" is the title of the event is in reference to the equator, which ships in the navy routinely cross these days. The ceremony takes place as a vessel crosses the equator, with a plethora of costumes and characters being implemented into the occasion. Those include King Neptune, the Royal Court, and Davy Jones.

It also incorporates a series of challenges for the Pollywogs or “Wogs” of a crew. Once completed, the Wogs become "Shellbacks,” a term signifying their equator-crossing experience. The ceremony was created in the harrowing days of wooden ships when a trip across the equator was a much more difficult task.

The Herndon Monument Climb!
Another Naval treasure, the Herndon Monument Climb, is an exciting challenge posed to the first-year students at the Naval Academy. They are tasked with forming a human pyramid in order to reach the top of a twenty-one-foot monument named after the 19th-century naval hero Commander William Lewis Herndon.

Upon reaching the top, they place a replace a “Dixie cup” hat with an upperclassman’s hat, signifying their official shift into their next year of school. The trickiest part of the ordeal is the fact that participants can’t wear shoes — and the monument is coated in vegetable shortening.

The event has taken place for over half a century, with the class of 1972 holding the record for the climb at a short 90 seconds.

Challenge Coins!
Challenge coins have a long, rich history;, especially in the military. Many organizations, such as police, fire, and sheriff departments, use these coins. Each set features a specific insignia for a branch of their force or subgroup of people within it. They are often associated with the armed forces, as military coins have been in use from as far back as World War I.

Challenge coins are part of a unique challenge, or "coin check" that takes place when a member of the military pulls out their challenge coin, prompting everyone else present to do so as well. The last one to reveal theirs, or anyone who has forgotten theirs entirely, is responsible for picking up everyone else’s tab.

They are excellent sources of connectedness and support amongst members of the armed forces.

The Mustache March!
There have been more and more calls to relax the regulations regarding hairstyles within the U.S. military. The Air Force has had a relaxed policy towards specific facial hair for a long time, especially in regards to the Mustache March.

Inspired by the three-time ace pilot Brigadier General Robin Olds’ epic mustache, the tradition involves Air Force personnel collectively growing out their stashes. The event is a show in solidarity and support for all of the members of the branch.

The Sword Tap!
This is an iconic tradition of the Marine Corps. The sword tap involves accepting a new member of their military family, specifically, a spouse. When a member of the military decides to marry a civilian in a full military-inspired ceremony, it often ends with the happy couple exiting the building through an arch of swords or sabers.

When a Marine, in particular, does this, though, there’s one final piece of the ceremony that gets added onto the end. As the newlyweds leave the arch behind, the last member of the line will gently use their sword to tap the civilian spouse’s derriere and shout out, “Welcome to the Marine Corps, ma’am!”

The Power of Tradition!
With these are some of the more interesting examples, there are countless other military traditions. Each has its own unique background and history. Each tradition is kept up by a group of men and women who are unabashedly dedicated to their careers, their craft, and their roles. It is that level of commitment and respect for duty that makes each of these traditions a hallowed affair.

No matter how bizarre or outlandish, each military custom that continues to persist marks yet another way that the members of the United States military have continued to bond.

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